Potassium is critical for helping nerves transmit signals, muscles contract and cells maintain fluid balance inside and out. Newer scientific evidence demonstrates that potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure. Potassium also decreases the chances of recurrent kidney stones and possibly reduces bone loss.
The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.
If you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, then you are probably consuming enough potassium. Particularly good sources of potassium include bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkin, spinach, raisins and root vegetables. Generally, more-processed foods have less potassium.
Abnormally low potassium levels in the body (hypokalemia) do not usually occur from low dietary intakes of potassium. Hypokalemia is most often the result of too much potassium lost from the body, such as in persistent cases of diarrhea or vomiting or due to laxative abuse. The symptoms of this condition include muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythms and abnormal glucose responses.
According to researchers, moderate potassium deficiency—that which occurs prior to hypokalemia—can cause increases in blood pressure and bone loss and put someone at risk for calcium-containing kidney stones. Unfortunately, moderate potassium deficiency is often silent because its symptoms (such as increased blood pressure and bone turnover) do not initially provide obvious outward signs. So, eat your fruits and veggies!
High potassium intakes from food have not been shown to cause adverse effects in healthy individuals. However, high doses of potassium from supplements can be toxic. Toxic doses of potassium supplements can cause a range of symptoms from gastrointestinal distress and abnormally high blood levels of potassium to heart irregularities. Bottom line: Stay within range of the recommended intakes.